Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr. changed the face of the nation’s civil rights movement with his iconic “I Have a Dream Speech,” Americans from coast to coast are commemorating the anniversary with meaningful reflection, heated debate and pushes for continued advocacy.
WUFT News spoke to local residents and politicians about the anniversary.
The Alachua County Branch of the NAACP took 67 residents to Washington, D.C. last weekend by bus, where the chapter participated in various commemoration activities. We spoke to three Alachua County residents who traveled with the group.
Not all Alachua County residents had to leave the area to commemorate the civil rights anniversary; locals gathered at Gainesville City Hall Saturday morning and marched to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Gardens in Downtown Gainesville to show their support of a progressive civil rights future. A University of Florida Black Student Union member presented an original and an updated version of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, with the updated version focusing on what changes still need to happen following fifty years of civil rights activism.
While the updated version of the speech was geared more toward Alachua County’s younger constituents, Gainesville resident and former Congressman Don Fuqua can still remember the original speech and why he voted no against the civil rights legislation. The only living member of Florida’s congressional delegation from that era, Fuqua described having to “quietly vote no” because of his solidly Southern district. The 80-year-old recalled trying to atone for his vote in the following years by advancing civil rights for his constituents.
Today’s Florida lawmakers hold similar sentiments of improving the state of civil rights in the U.S. The Miami Herald asked Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Alcee Hastings and Rep. Lois Frankel to reflect on the 50-year anniversary and the Sunshine State’s civil rights victories.
But for many black politicians, the civil rights fight is far from over. They feel they’re still being snubbed in statewide races for senator and governor positions. The Wall Street Journal reported on the uneven election success for black politicians and how “few blacks have been elected to the Senate and gubernatorial offices that are natural springboards to the presidency and vice presidency.”
A 61-year-old Detroit activist named Edith Lee-Payne also believes more civil rights work needs to be accomplished. In a McClatchy article, Lee-Payne described attending the original march and her plans to return to Washington, D.C. for the anniversary commemoration, which she hopes will serve as a call to action for civil rights activism.
While many news outlets recounted the March on Washington through personal anecdotes from those who attended, The Atlantic Wire composed a photo diary of the event which depicts demonstrators arriving by bus, train, plane and even roller skates.
Museums and cultural organizations in the nation’s capital are also recapitulating the march by organizing civil rights-driven exhibits for this week’s influx of visitors in Washington, D.C. From the Newseum’s “Civil Rights at 50” display to the National Portrait Gallery’s “One Life: Martin Luther King Jr.” exhibit, Washington, D.C. institutions are seizing the anniversary as a chance to educate their patrons.